Thursday, September 26, 2013


The day after labor day in 1950, my mother took me to a place called school and left me in a room full of strange kids. Although I didn't know it at the time, I had joined what would become Damascus High School Class of '63.  

There were over sixty of us, some of whom made it into the our initial class picture. Others would join later.  Over the years, some would move away. Some would move for a period only to return later. Others would join later and some very late. When a person joined didn't matter, once a member, always a member.  

Over the course of time we became like a family. We worked and learned together. We played together, laughed together and cried together as well.  As in most families, we also fought with one another and as part of the process learned to make up and forgive one another.  During those years, we formed bonds of friendship and mutual respect that continue to this day.

Then, on a warm June evening in 1963, we marched across a stage, received our diplomas and passed into history.  

It's hard to believe that evening was over fifty years ago.

Fifty years ago, our motto was "Hitch your wagon to a star", and we did. 

Fifty years ago, we had ambitions and dreams. Today, those ambitions and dreams have been tempered and changed by time and life.

Fifty years ago, like characters in a fairy tale, we set off to seek our fortunes. Today, our fortunes have been gained, lost, and regained.

Fifty years ago, we thought we knew exactly what success would look like. Today, we have learned success doesn't always look like what you expect. For the most part, that's okay.

Fifty years ago, we knew we were bullet proof and would go on forever.  Today, we know better. Of those who walked across that stage on that evening in June, 1963, thirteen are no longer with us. They are gone and we are diminished. 

From the outside, we probably looked typical. From inside we were unique. Fifty years later, we remain so.

One classmate was the subject of so many announcements calling him to the principal's office, vice principal's office, front office, or guidance counselor's office that we all waited for a request to have the principal, vice principal, and guidance counselor to report to his office instead.

Another classmate stormed out of English Class and sent himself to the principal's office after receiving a grade of B for a better score than had earned a classmate an A, probably the only student in history to ever do such a thing.

Yet another was the original "Joe Cool". He had the perfect flat top haircut a green sports car and an active vendetta against his Senior English Teacher. Somehow, he still managed to graduate with the rest of us.

Still another had a '50 Ford with 3/4 race cam, two deuces and overdrive and was too color blind to tell flashing yellow from flashing red lights. A ride with him was interesting indeed.

We were wild. We were crazy. We were free; legends in our own minds, seeking our unique place in the world. Somehow, we made it through. Somehow, we survived. Looking back with the perspective of fifty years, most of us realize how incredibly blessed we were and are. 

Today, in words reminiscent of the Statler Brothers,

"...We'll never feel bad 'bout the times that we had
Never look back in regret.
The heaven they gave, we will treasure and save
'Cause it might be as close as we get"

How about your class?

What made you unique?

What do you look back on with fondness?

Which friends do you remember?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day of Remembrance, Day of Resolve

September 11, 2001 promised nothing special. The sun was out. The sky was brilliant blue, the temperature pleasant. The world was at peace when I boarded the 6:08 express bus to the Pentagon. I looked forward to a day of email, staff call, and work on the technical project and briefing of the moment.

Half-way through my email, I learned that someone had flown a plane into one of the World Trade Towers. For all I knew it was a light plane, an incident causing minor damage. I shrugged it off and went to staff call.

Midway through staff call, there was a shock like a blow to the entire body. The Colonel identified it as blast over-pressure. We opened the door and found the corridor outside filled with smoke. We stepped over debris as we moved out and away from the smoke and from the building.

Our world was no longer at peace.

In slightly over an hour and a quarter, nearly 3000 people who had gone to work in a world at peace had perished in an act of war. Like the 7th of December 1941, the 11th of September 2001 had become a day that will live forever in infamy. As the result of an act of unspeakable evil, our nation was at war. Twelve years later the nation remains at war.

Freshmen entering college this fall and many of the soldiers fighting today's battles were barely in grammar school on 9/11. Some of them cannot remember a time when the nation was not at war. Colonels and Generals directing today's forces were newly minted Lieutenants, Captains, and Majors when the war began.

Twelve years after 9/11, images of the towers falling, of the Pentagon on fire, of wreckage in a Pennsylvania field are scarcely to be found. Pictures of people casting themselves from the towers to avoid the inferno inside are unavailable. Those who control government and the media have determined such images are "too graphic and disturbing" to be displayed.

Yet those who sought to inflict pain and disrupt our way of life those twelve years ago still exist, are still intent on inflicting pain, intent on disrupting our life, intent on robbing us of our security. Their resolve remains strong to win a conflict of a hundred years or more.

It is good to remember 9/11 with deeds of service as has become the fashion. It would be better to remember them with stories and graphic images of the events themselves.

We, as a nation, need to recall the horror. We need to remember that on 9/11 nearly 3000 of our countrymen died needless horrible deaths. We need to be reminded that their deaths were the result of acts of surpassing evil.

We need to remember and mourn our dead.

Remembering, let us solemnly resolve that this evil shall not triumph.

Let us resolve that we will oppose this evil at home and oppose it abroad, that we will oppose it on land, in the air, and on the sea, that we will oppose it individually, as a nation, and through the Community of Nations.

Let us further resolve that though it take a thousand years, we will endure to triumph over evil or perish in the attempt.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

How will you be commemorating the events of 9/11?

What service will you perform? What commemorative events will you attend?

By what actions will you demonstrate your resolve?

Will you do nothing?

What will you do to ensure evil will not triumph?

Saturday, September 7, 2013


In the fall of my senior year of high school, I met a girl in a green dress and ended up totally smitten. Two months later, we had our first date, followed by four years of subsequent dates, of movies and prom nights and football games and Sunday afternoons when our chief joy was being with each other.

Four years later that same girl, dressed in white this time, walked down the aisle and joined her hand and life to mine. We were two kids with huge dreams and absolutely no idea what we were getting into, but none of that really mattered. We wanted nothing more than to be together and for better or worse, we were.

That was forty-seven years, one war, four kids, one bout with cancer, nineteen addresses, several careers, a couple of new body parts, a lot of memories ago. A lot of things I no longer remember. Remembered or not, we did all of it together. 

Being together remains our highest joy. 

Together is important.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Life's Blueprint

In my most recent post, I quoted from a speech Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered to the students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia in October 1967. I have since had the pleasure of reading the entire speech. The advice is contains is universally applicable and should be required reading in middle and high schools across the nation. 

I take great pleasure in presenting Dr. King's speech, "What is Your Life's Blueprint?" without further editorial content. 

Enjoy the read. 

What Is Your Life's Blueprint?

I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is your life's blueprint?

Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, solid blueprint.

Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.

I want to suggest some of the things that should begin your life's blueprint. Number one in your life's blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don't allow anybody to make you fell that you're nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.

Secondly, in your life's blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You're going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life's work will be. Set out to do it well.

And I say to you, my young friends, doors are opening to you--doors of opportunities that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to face these doors as they open.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture in 1871, "If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."

This hasn't always been true — but it will become increasingly true, and so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil; I would say to you, don't drop out of school. I understand all the sociological reasons, but I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you're forced to live in — stay in school.

And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. don't just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn't do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.

— From the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Work and the Habit of Excellence.

This is the gospel of labour,
Peal forth, ye bells of the kirk,
For the Lord of Love
Came Down from above
To live with men who work.

And this is the seed He planted,
Here, in this thorn-cursed soil;
Heaven is blessed with eternal rest,
But the blessing of earth is toil.
       -- Anon.

This weekend, we celebrate labor day. Originally a celebration of workers' rights won by the labor movement and labor unions, it is today mostly a celebration of the end of summer and a line of demarcation between the vacation part of the year and work.

Work is what we do to support our vacations. Vacations are an upper. Work is a downer. We endure our work. We live for our vacations. We concentrate on the quality of our time off rather than the quality of our work products.

It was not always so.

Benjamin Franklin valued his work so much he regarded time spent in the print shop as money. In Poor Richard's Almanac, he opined that "Early to bed an early to rise makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise," and he lived it  Work and the work ethic were important to him.

Arriving in Philadelphia with a loaf of bread and not a penny in his pocket, Franklin rose by his own effort to become one of the most successful men in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, and in the nascent United States. From the standpoint of history, we forget he had to serve an apprenticeship to become a printer. We forget the efforts he expended to open and establish his own print shop and bookstore an make them prosper. We forget the effort it took him to become well-read and educated. We remember the success and forget the efforts it took to achieve it.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on a similar theme on October 26, 1967 when he addressed the students at Barrett Junior High School in Philadelphia with the following words:

"What I'm saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures! 

Sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music. 

Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. 

Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well!"  

If you can't be a pine on the top of a hill, be a scrub in the valley, but be the best little scrub on the side of the rill.  
Be a bush if you can't be a tree.  
If you can't be a highway, just be a trail.  
If you can't be a sun, be a star.  
It isn't by size that you win or you fail; be the best at whatever that you are!"

Ben Franklin would have heartily approved. 

In my life, my mother's urged me to "Be the best you possible."

The Army challenged me to "Be all that you can be!"

My church preaches "Whatever you do in word and deed, do it with a whole heart, as to The Lord."

The message is pervasive. We are to seek excellence, to over deliver, to do above and beyond the minimum.

Aristotle is quoted as saying "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

We are urged in whatever we do to be excellent.

Are you being the best you can be?

Are you making excellence a habit?

Are you the best at whatever you are?

How are you doing with that?